April 25, 2023
Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW) gathered elected officials, advocates, and survivors of trafficking to urge the New York State Legislature to pass S1966 (Sepulveda), an act to amend the penal law in relation to individuals engaged in prostitution who are victims of or witnesses to a crime, and S4266A (Webb)/A5288A (Reyes), an act to establish a task force on missing women and girls who are Black, indigenous and people of color. Both bills seek to address how the policing of marginalized women and girls often reinforces structural inequities and stereotypes that contribute to their particular vulnerability to violence.
S1966 is common-sense legislation that would encourage sex workers and trafficking survivors who are crime victims and witnesses to report their experience to law enforcement, receive medical care, and seek help. People involved in commercial sexual activity, whether by choice or because they are being trafficked, are often targeted by predators who know they are unlikely to report victimization or seek medical attention for fear of their own arrest. When abusers are not reported to law enforcement, they are able to continue their acts of violence and exploitation with impunity. Similar legislation has recently passed in a number of states around the country.
S4266A/A5288A highlights how women and girls of color who are victims of crime have been failed by institutions that reinforce structural violence. Their stories and names are obscured by race, socioeconomic class, lack of urgency, gendered racism, and invisibility. The task force will develop policy changes to address the lack of care and concern for missing and murdered BIPOC women and girls; educate and train communities on the prevention, protection and protocols relating to missing women and girls; develop research strategies; recommend preventive programming; identify major traffic places that have high abduction rates; and create an awareness campaign.
Advocates and impacted individuals held meetings with over twenty state legislators to discuss the importance of both bills and were pleased with how receptive the lawmakers were. It is not clear whether either bill will become law this legislative session but the day was a success nonetheless as advocates were able to educate lawmakers and lay the groundwork for future action.
In addition to meeting with legislators, advocates, impacted individuals, and the bills’ sponsors, DSW held a press conference. Below are a handful of the most impactful statements made:
As a proud co-sponsor of both bills, I believe that we must act in unison to enact both into law this year. In doing so, we will empower and elevate survivors, raise awareness, and finally focus our time and resources on those who need and deserve it the most.”
— Senator Cordell Cleare (D-Harlem)
Sex workers and trafficking survivors who are crime victims and witnesses often remain silent for fear of retribution. With S1966, we are seeking to provide them with the necessary protection to report their experiences, receive medical care, and seek help. S4266A/A5288A, on the other hand, highlights the institutional failures that lead to the invisibility and vulnerability of missing and murdered women and girls of color. Passing both bills is essential in our efforts to address structural inequities and ensure justice for marginalized communities.”
— Senator Luis Sepúlveda (D-Bronx)
We have an epidemic of missing BIPOC Women and Girls in the U.S. and in New York State, the numbers keep rising. Missing Women and Girls of Color do not receive the same care and concern when they go missing as their white counterparts. Their cases are covered by fewer news stories, and they are too often mischaracterized as runaways, leaving families to resort to hiring bounty hunters to find their daughters. My legislation will establish a task force to address this gap in care and concern for BIPOC victims of abduction and human trafficking, educate communities to prevent disappearances, and identify the major hubs in New York where abductions occur.”
— Senator Lea Webb (D-Binghamton)
Women and girls of color are discarded by systemic racism in the reporting and search for missing persons. I am the proud sponsor of A5088-A with Senator Webb to tackle that inequity by establishing a task force of government agencies to analyze, reform, and prevent the conditions that allow both the media and law enforcement to treat these cases differently. This vital legislation will chart the path forward to making New York State a safer and affirming state for women and girls of color and their families, especially in missing persons cases.”
— Assembly Member Karines Reyes, R.N. (D-Bronx)
Immunity legislation is gaining popularity across the country with bipartisan support and collaborative efforts between activists, survivors, legislators, and law enforcement, who are all in agreement that these policies are crucial in advancing public health and safety. Ensuring that perpetrators of violence cannot repeatedly exploit their victims’ vulnerability and allowing survivors of violence to seek help is common sense public policy, which is why immunity laws are increasingly common in other states.”
— DSW Staff Attorney Rebecca Cleary
For too long, missing women and girls of color have largely been ignored. By creating a task force to focus attention on this issue, New York can follow the lead of other states who have made women and girls of color a priority.”
— Dawn Rowe, Executive Director of Girl Vow
Immunity laws directly protect victims and witnesses of violence, and they ultimately benefit all communities by allowing law enforcement to better detect criminal activity. I have had to accompany many clients who were raped or assaulted to the police to ensure they themselves would not be seen as the criminals, which just should not be the case.”
— DSW Legal Director Melissa Broudo, longtime advocate and attorney for sex workers and trafficking survivors